Behaviour Away from Home


You send your child out into the world (scrubbed, neat, and shining like the sun, though that’s never certain), and from the time she’s very little, she’s got a life of her own. Friendships, rivalries, heartbreak, love—it all happens and happens again and again, beginning early in childhood. You can support your child’s struggles, but you have little control over what happens in her life.

Not all is muddy and unclear. You may get a glimmer of what is going on from your child (depending upon the strength of your communication relationship, her temperament, your temperament, and her age). You may get a sense from watching her with her friends and peers. You may also occasionally hear something from another parent. Often it will be good, occasionally it won’t be.

Behaviour Away from Home

Problems at a Friend’s House

It’s not a good feeling when your child’s friend’s parent approaches you with, “Sarah had a little problem today,” or, “I need to talk with you about Todd’s behaviour this afternoon.”

You need to determine:

What happened. This entails hearing the story from a couple of sides, including your child’s, and keeping your cool.

How the other parent handled it. Did the other family “discipline” her, and do you approve of their approach? Did they have your permission?

Whether or not you’ll live through the embarrassment of having your kid behave so badly. You will.

Other Parents and Discipline

For small matters—the kids are squabbling over a toy and the friend’s parent removes it, your kid hits the other and the parent reprimands him, or the kids make a mess and they are required to clean it up—there’s no question that the parent in charge should handle the problem. By agreeing that the other parent is caring for your child, you’ve put that parent in a position of authority, and the parent should be able to assert that authority without it being judged by you.

For serious concerns, the other parent should let you handle your own child’s discipline. If there is a serious problem, it’s up to the other parent to contact you, not deal with it alone. And nobody should ever hit, verbally abuse, or severely punish your child.

If your child has gotten “into trouble” at a friend’s house, you’ll need to talk with him about it, and possibly impose consequences (once you’ve gotten home). But don’t apply consequences for the crime of having gotten into trouble, too—that’s double-dipping.

Behave Yourself!

Want your child to feel relaxed and self-confident? Expect the best at home! Manners take practice, and unless a child practices at home, he’ll have a hard time holding his fork correctly, for example, when he’s out. And, unless manners are second-nature for a child, he’ll feel self-conscious and uncomfortable trying to use them in public.

Events, Shows, Parties

What about your child’s behaviour when he’s out with you in public? Some parents feel very comfortable taking their kids to the opera, a trade show, or a cocktail party. If you start young, and make the family rules very clear and non-negotiable in terms of rudeness and noise-making in public, you’ll end up with a child comfortable in almost any setting.

Keep your expectations clear. If your child is acting up and disturbing others, take him out. Immediately.

Modeling counts here, big time. Train your child by example as well as by experience.

Be a hands-on parent and don’t relinquish responsibility for your child just because there are other adults there engaging him.

Restaurant Rowdiness

What a combo—a hungry child trapped in a small space, waiting for food, forced to be quiet. Some kids are fine in restaurants, even the most solemn and ornate ones. For other kids (the high-energy ones), you might as well chain them to the wall, it’s that uncomfortable. At their worst, kids in restaurants can become the opposite of well behaved. You, the parent, can have the opposite of a relaxed, calm dinner. The chances for humiliation are endless.

Luckily, while restaurant nightmares happen, they happen less frequently than you might think, and there are many ways to avoid unhappiness and disaster. The rule of the public child comes into play here.

Here are some restaurant survival tips:

Almost any restaurant is fine to take your child to. Don’t feel restricted to just fast-food joints, coffee shops, or pizza parlors. If your child is not very restaurant experienced, hold off on the fancy, romantic, candle-lit ones until she’s learned the restaurant ropes.

Don’t take your child to a restaurant when she’s hungry. This is totally counter-intuitive, I know; after all, you go to a restaurant to get fed, but a hungry kid is rarely as well behaved as you like. The solution? Snacks in the car, just enough to take the edge off. There’s often bread at the table, too.

Bring toys, books, and coloring books for the long wait until food arrives.

Let your child eat what she wants to eat (within reason, of course).

Order some “safe” things (well, there’s always the bread), but encourage your child to taste at least one new thing.

Encourage, encourage, encourage.

At the least sign of trouble, out you go for a walk until the food arrives. This is mostly true with babies and toddlers, but there are eight-year-olds who lose it and need a break.

Dr Phil’s advice

Lani says that at home, her son Mason avoids conflict, and is a “mommy’s boy.” When we got him alone with other children, he began spitting at the other kids, making them cry, and even attacked one girl with a doll!

Are you aware of how your child behaves when you’re not around? Are you concerned that he or she might be acting one way at home, and completely differently with others?

Don’t Be Naïve.

Parents rarely see their children as they truly are, and children are more likely to follow their parents’ values while at home. While your child may be acting fine in any situation, the sooner you realize that he or she may not be perfect, the sooner you’ll be able to help your child with all of his/her behaviours, not just the ones you see.

Know What’s Going on Behind-the-Scenes.

While you can’t supervise your children 24 hours a day, you can be in regular communication with the other adults who interact with them. Talk to other parents who have your kids over as guests, and talk to teachers and caregivers. Remember, they’re your best resource for monitoring out-of-the-house behaviour.

Put Yourself in a Position to See Your Child in a Separate Environment.

If possible, try and arrange a situation when you can watch your child where they don’t know that you’re there. This may be difficult to arrange, and doesn’t need to be repeated regularly, but there will be nothing like seeing your child on his/her own with your own eyes!

Stop spoiling your kids

Over-indulgence, Dr. Phil explains, is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse. Here is a perspective that might help you stop.

Your primary job as a parent is to prepare your child for how the world really works. In the real world, you don’t always get what you want. You will be better able to deal with that as an adult if you’ve experienced it as a child.

If your parent/child relationship is based on material goods, your child won’t have the chance to experience unconditional love.

Be a good role model. “We’re not the only influence in our kids’ lives, so we better be the best influence,” says Dr. Phil

Redefine what taking care of your children means. Are you providing for them emotionally and spiritually? You need not buy them material goods in order to create a bond. Instead of tangible gifts, how about spending some time together? Be careful that you aren’t teaching them that emotions can be healed by a trip to the mall.

Don’t let your guilt get in the way of your parenting. “Your job as a parent is not to make yourself feel good by giving the child everything that makes you feel good when you give it,” Dr. Phil tells one mom. Your job as a parent is to prepare your child to succeed in school and when they get out into the world. “Kids have to be socialized in a way that they understand you work hard for what you get.” You don’t want to teach your child that they will get everything through manipulation, pouting, crying, door slamming and guilt induction.

Make sure your children aren’t defining their happiness and their status in the world as a function of what they wear or drive. Sit down with them and have a one-on-one conversation about what really defines their worth — their intelligence, their creativity, their caring, their giving, their work ethic, etc. If you spent equal time sitting down and talking to them about what really mattered as you do shopping, you might be able counterbalance the countless images they see telling them otherwise.

Understand “intrinsic” versus “extrinsic” motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when people do things because they feel proud of themselves when they do it. They feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Extrinsic motivation is when someone does something because of external motivation. For example, they will receive money, a toy or priviledge if they do the task. If you are always rewarding your child with material things, he/she will never learn how to motivate themselves with internal rewards like pride. They also will never learn to value things because there are so many things and nothing is special.

Make sure your child understands the value of hard work. For example, Dr. Phil explains, “I always told our boys, ‘If you make Cs, you’re going to have a C standard of living. If you make Bs, you’re going to have a B standard of living. If you make As, you’re going to have an A standard of living.’”

Dr. Phil reminds one young guest who aspires to be wealthy that it’s not a bad goal, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there. “The difference between winners and losers is winners do things losers don’t want to do. And that’s work hard to get ready to be a star,” he says. If your child idolises a celebrity, ask him/her why. Dr. Phil speaks to one young guest who looks up to rich girls like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. “What have either of them ever done, except spend money that they got from somebody else? What is it you’re looking up to?”

Your child does not have to love you every minute of every day. He’ll get over the disappointment of having been told “no.” But he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled.

Help your child set goals. Teach him/her that striving to own nice things is fine if he/she understands how much hard work it takes to afford that, and then doesn’t base his/her self-worth around what she buys.



Dr. Phil has this advice for all parents, regardless of whether or not your child has behaviour problems:

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